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Kentucky Lawmakers Approve 20-Week Abortion Ban And Ultrasound Requirement

The 20-week ban has no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, and only allows abortions past the threshold if the life of the mother is threatened.

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Laws restricting abortions in Kentucky and requiring women who seek them to first get an ultrasound went into effect on Monday after lawmakers held a rare session over the weekend.

The 20-week ban has no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, and only allows abortions past the threshold if the life of the mother is threatened. The bill also included a "litigation fund" to combat anticipated legal challenges to the bill.

The ultrasound law requires doctors to show a woman seeking an abortion her ultrasound and describe what she is seeing in detail.

In a Facebook video posted Saturday night after the votes, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, cited bipartisan support in the state legislature for his intent to sign both bills, which both included unusual emergency measures that put them into effect the first weekday after passing. Bevin has 10 days to officially sign the laws.

The ACLU, however, was quick to file a legal challenge to the ultrasound law, asking a judge to issue a temporary retraining order to block it before patients show up for their appointments at the abortion clinic Tuesday morning.

“The law is an example of political interference operating in its most perverse form,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “A woman deserves to expect high quality compassionate care from her doctor. Instead, this law puts politicians in the exam room — squarely between a woman and her doctor.”

While the American Civil Liberties Union opposes the 20-week ban, there is only one abortion clinic in Kentucky and it already does not provide abortions past 20 weeks, so the law will have little impact.

Jennifer Dalven, also of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom project, called the 20 week ban "unconstitutional and dangerous," even though it does not apply to clinics.

"But make no mistake about it, this law does affect care in Kentucky by cutting off care for sick women and women who learn past 20 weeks that their fetus has a severe anomaly who may seek abortions at hospitals," she told BuzzFeed News.

Nearly 20 states now have bans on abortions after 20 weeks. In a letter written by Donald Trump during his campaign outlining his platform on abortion, he pledged to turn the bill into federal law.

The move is the result of a nationwide effort by Republican legislators and anti-abortion advocates based on a widely disputed theory that a fetus begins to feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation.

Many physicians, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a nonprofit advocacy and aid group, concluded there is “no evidence of fetal perception of pain until 29 weeks at the earliest.” The ACOG added that the legislation would make doctors unable to do their jobs to the fullest and would “harm women’s health in very clear ways.”

Kentucky legislators passed a total of seven bills in their early session Saturday. Other than the two abortion laws, they also banned mandatory labor union dues, repealed Kentucky's prevailing wage law, banned union dues from being used for political donations, and replaced the University of Louisville's board of trustees.

As they were being passed, dozens of activists gathered in Kentucky's Capitol building to protest the abortion restrictions in particular, while a few joined in against the labor laws.

Bevin called the laws "historic" and "generationally changing bills." He said he will hold ceremonial signing ceremonies throughout the week.


Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Ema O'Connor at ema.oconnor@buzzfeed.com.

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